A gag order too far

A gag order too far

Some veterans have termed the amendments to the Central Civil Service (Pension) Rules 'draconian'

Gagging retired officials of the security forces and depriving them of the right to speech is tantamount to enslaving them for life. Credit: iStock Images

A group of 109 retired senior officers of the central and state governments recently wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister expressing their trepidation over the amendment to the Central Civil Service (Pension) Rules.

The government recently amended the rules to prohibit personnel who retired from security agencies like the Intelligence Bureau, Research and Analysis Wing, the Central Reserve Police Force, Border Security Force, the Central Industrial Security Force, Sashastra Seema Bal, National Investigation Agency, Central Bureau of Investigation, National Technical Research Organisation, the Assam Rifles and a few others — 26 in all— from publishing anything related to the organisation in which they served. While there can be no denying the fact that personnel of IB, CBI, RAW, NIA and the NTRO are privy to humongous information relating to the security of the nation, apart from other information that would strictly be in the domain of politically advantageous material, officials of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) are not privy to such information that could be detrimental to national security in any manner.

Ironically, personnel of the military services have been kept out of the order, though they have access to vital information that impacts national security. Maj Gen V K Singh, who did a stint with RAW, wrote a book in 2007 “India’s External Intelligence: Secrets of Research and Analysis Wing,” which came under the scanner of the government. Singh, who was on deputation to RAW as Joint Secretary (Telecom) and retired in 2002, was booked by the CBI for wrongful communication of information under Section 5 of the Official Secrets Act. The information divulged in the book was considered to be sensitive in nature and prejudicial to national interest. Such aberrations are too few to count. In 2007, the CCS (Pension) Rules, 1972, was amended to prohibit the intelligence agencies from sharing sensitive information with anyone. The latest changes in rules, issued on the recommendations of a Committee of Secretaries, has put the CAPFs, apart from several other organisations included in the second schedule of the Right to Information Act which are exempted from parting with any information sought under RTI, in the same basket.

Some veterans have termed the amendments “draconian”. Had the committee that recommended the amendment included a few eminent retired IPS officers such as Julius Rebeiro and Prakash Singh, the amendments could have been incorporated in a manner that would have been acceptable to all pensioners. But the threat of complete or part withdrawal of pension either permanently or for a certain duration has come as a Sword of Damocles hanging on the head of such pensioners from the intelligence or security forces who venture to write articles or books that are well-intentioned.

Having joined government service, all employees are governed by the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules under which they are prohibited from writing books or contributing articles relating to the government. Sports, arts and culture are the only subjects they can write on. Shackled thus by the rules while in service, they would have much to express through their writings after retirement. But the recent gag order seeks to throttle all such voices. Shackled till death.

In the missive to the Prime Minister, the retired officers have averred that pension is earned by the retirees for the services rendered to the government and as such cannot be meddled with unless one is convicted for any serious crime. “Only those who have been involved in security-related matters, internal or external, can speak with authority and credibility. Other domain experts, scholars and even interested members of the public look forward to such words of wisdom based on personal experience,” they said.

“We are unable to understand why there is such a need for amendment to the Central Pension Rules when there already exists an Official Secrets Act, 1923, and the State can, under it, prosecute officials and former officials who reveal information prejudicial to the State”, the letter stated.

It needs to be emphasised here that those who write in the media are usually very senior officials who have a holistic view of government policies by virtue of having held senior ranks. They definitely have the wisdom and the prudence to reveal only those facts that they believe would not endanger the security and sovereignty of our nation. Having served the nation for decades, they are well placed to sift the chaff from the wheat and disseminate facts that would in no way jeopardise our sovereignty.

Getting a clearance from the head of an organisation for each piece or book written is not easy. As the current heads of these organisations would usually be juniors to the writers, it would be difficult for them to edit portions that in their estimation may warrant revision. They would therefore prefer to pass the buck to the Ministry of Home Affairs where it would be under scrutiny for several weeks, if not months, and thus lose its relevance by the time it is cleared for publication.

Thus, freedom of speech and expression gets strangled during government service and this rule will continue to stifle the freedom granted by Article 19 of the Constitution even after retirement. This rule and the threat to tinker with pensions should go. Perhaps the government could institute a period of debarment from writing articles or books — say a year or two after retirement— but thereafter, they should be allowed to enjoy the freedom to express themselves. And when they do voice their opinions, they will do so for the betterment of governance in the country. Depriving former officials of the security forces of the freedom to express themselves post-retirement is tantamount to enslaving them for life once they venture to join these forces.

(The writer is a former Inspector General of Police, CRPF)